Ben Nevis in a nutshell:
owner: Ben Nevis Distillery Ltd (Nikka, Asahi Breweries)
location: 56° 50’ 06” N 05° 04’ 27” W
capacity: 2,000,000 litres
washbacks: 6 stainless steel, 2 Oregon pine
source of water: Allt a’Mhuilinn on the slope of Ben Nevis
Even if the standard official bottling of Ben Nevis 10yo does not usually make it to the top of favourite whiskies of whisky connoisseurs, the vintage expressions, especially those from the 1960s and 1970s are capable of delighting even the most demanding palates. In the unassuming distillery buildings perched at the foot of and named after the tallest mountain in Britain, there is much more potential than would seem at first glance.
The distillery, located on the outskirts of Fort William, was founded in 1825, which makes it one of the older Scottish whisky distilleries. It was founded by John “Long” McDonald, commemorated years later by the name Long John being given to one of the blended whiskies, whose principal malt ingredient was distilled at Ben Nevis. At the moment, however, as a result of a series of ownership changes, this connection has been lost, and today’s Long John whisky has got nothing to do with Ben Nevis.
About half a century from the distillery’s foundation, the demand for whisky reach such high levels that a decision was made to build another distillery in Fort William, right next to the existing Ben Nevis. The Nevis distillery, founded in 1878. was merged with Ben Nevis in 1908. In 1955, an expansion of the distillery’s production capacity includes installation of a continuous still, the so-called Coffey still. The contraption worked at Ben Nevis until 1971, alongside traditional pot stills, which created an opportunity to make a blended whisky entirely produced within one distillery, a unique chance to make a single blended whisky – a blend of grain and malt whiskies produced in one single plant. The whisky was released in 2002, and it was a 1962 vintage Dew of Ben Nevis 40yo “Blended at Birth”. Its second edition was launched in 2015.
The second half of the 20th century spelled chequered production at Ben Nevis – the still was closed for a time in 1978 and later in 1986. The latter despite considerable investment that was made in the distillery in 1984. Eventually, the distillery was sold to Nikka Whisky Distilling Company in 1989 and production recommenced there the following year. A year later the distillery opened its doors to visitors, and the Visitor Centre that was launched at the time still functions till this day. In 1996 the first official single malt whisky from Ben Nevis was launched. The following years spelled a growing popularity of malt whisky in general, which triggered other official bottlings of the Ben Nevis malt. In the new millennium Ben Nevis entered a stage of experimenting with wood finishing, which resulted, among others, in the launch of Ben Nevis 13yo Port Wood Finish in 2006. A peaty Ben Nevis, the McDonald’s Traditional Ben Nevis, launched in 2001, is also worth a mention, especially that it attempted to recreate the style of whisky made here in the second half of the 19th century.
Over a quarter of a century has passed since the distillery’s takeover by Nikka. All that time the plant has been working uninterruptedly, and its products are sold not only under its own brand. What is more, they are not always sold as Scotch whisky! According to some sources, quite a lot of it (some say it is 50% of the spirit made here) is tankered over to Japan, where it is used in the making of blended whiskies under the Nikka brand, mainly the popular Nikka Black.
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